Monday, April 25, 2011

Perspective: News for Swim Parents from ASCA

Listening recently to a group of parents (Mom’s, specifically) discussing the challenge of dealing with the drama that gets created by their teenage girls, much of it fueled by an incomplete understanding of human interactions and artificially both “sped up” and “widespread” due to all the electronic communication tool every teenager seemingly has access to….I was struck with the “counter-points” that need to be taught to teenagers, pre-teens, young adults and related “young folk.”

Without going all “Hilary Clintonish” on you, it did strike me that it takes a combination of parents, teachers, coaches and better informed peers to work on educating our young people on this…if not “it takes a village”, it certainly takes a good number of friends.
What would constitute some of the parental/coach “talking points” that would address the self-absorbed angst of those challenging years? Here’s my personal “short list”. Please enhance it with your own.

#1. Look at your issue within the overall context of your life. (This is called “Growing Up”.) The fact that Billy ignored you in Math Class does not mean that your life is “ruined”. Nor does Mary being mean to you in study hall rise to that level….these are MINOR distractions that you are allowing to control your emotions and your temperament. Why give ANYONE that much power over you? Don’t you want to become independent? Actually, you have a roof over your head, food to eat, your life in a great country and a family that loves you. Get some context here, people! NO BIG DEAL. Your life is actually pretty OK. (or a lot better than that.)

#2. Recognize the marvelous stuff going on around you. Appreciate your surroundings, the talented people you are with every day and take some time to “smell the flowers”. There is far more light than dark in your life. (for most of us.)

#3. Reach out to others. One of the tried and true ways to “feel better” is to help someone worse off than you are. Reach out, get your head out of your own problems…..and do something that helps someone else. It creates instant Perspective.

#4. Associate with people who are positive and upbeat. Hang around with doom and gloomers, and you’ll soon become one. Look at the good side when you can, speak only with good intent, act by doing random acts of kindness and see how quickly it is returned to you. If all you do is hang out with people complaining about something, pretty soon you’ll think that’s normal and right. It isn’t. What’s right is DOING something to fix your problems.

#5. Every problem comes with a chance for you to challenge it, and GROW. Get better, Get stronger. If it was a struggle to get food to eat, you’d soon become very creative about getting food. Stop whining and get creative about resolving your issue. Accept and learn to enjoy the challenge of life. You’ll face it every day. Better get used to it and get a good attitude.

#6. “Chop Wood, Haul Water” – the rural Chinese say that 99% of life is the mundane task… ”Chop wood, haul water”. American TV shows life as an endless series of exciting, dynamic, thrilling ACTIONS. Not so. Most of life is mundane….interrupted by moments of sheer joy and sheer terror. Get used to your version of “Chop wood, haul water”. Learn to enjoy the rhythm and essence of your daily life and realize that without the mundane the special wouldn’t be so special. And having “special” all the time is NOT what it’s cracked up to be. (witness all the unhappy and dangerously ill Hollywood starts…….who may be living very “special” lives…..not a prescription for happiness is it?)

Unhappy teenager? Simplify your life. Turn off the electronic stuff once in awhile and get outside and experience the real world. Focus on what you can DO for others, not what they do for you. Find something you love and engage in it fully.

Parents, remember, your goal is strong, independent children. Every time you do something for them that they should do for themselves, you make them weak. Give them the opportunity to grow. It’s a great gift from Parent to Child. They need psychological tools to cope with the world. My top 6 are above. Teach them your own.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Resolving Conflicts With the Coach

It’s part of the nature of our sport that conflicts sometimes arise between parents and coaches.  Conflicts are often are the result of a difference of opinion between parent and coach over the career development of the parent’s child.  Additionally, lack of, or inadequate, or improper communication on the part of the coach or parent compound the situation.  While ASCA continually stresses the importance of good communication skills with coaches and makes it a regular topic in clinics and in coach’s publications, today I would like to address parents on this issue.


As a parent of a swimmer many years ago, I know the feeling of despair when things were not going as well as I would have liked.  I know the feeling of wanting to challenge the coach on one issue or another.  What’s a parent to do when you think the program isn’t meeting the needs of your child?


Time out.  Let’s review that last sentence again:  “What’s a parent to do when YOU think the program isn’t meeting the needs of your child?”  Perhaps the child is fine!  If the child is happy and improving, then “Life is Good.”  Let it go.  It’s not about YOUR goals for the child – it is about their feeling of happiness and their own individual pace of progress.  However, if the child is not happy then see below.


Time in.  Here are some strategies for resolving conflicts with the coach:

1.     Don’t use email to discuss an issue.  Tone is often misread in email.    Even using the telephone is problematic when it comes to solving issues.  The old fashioned method of face to face communication is still the best.

2.     Don’t take your issue to other parents or the Board first.  Take your concerns direct to the coach.

3.     Don’t “bushwack” the coach with a sudden and emotional approach.  Calm the emotion first, let rational thinking prevail.  Ask the coach for an opportunity to discuss your child’s progress.  Set an appointment.

4.     Consider the setting for a meeting.  On the deck during practice is definitely out.  Before practice can be difficult for the coach as he or she prepares for the workout.  After practice is better but there may be too many people around and too many distractions.  It would be better to use after practice time to approach the coach to set up an appointment time.  A quiet setting apart from others is best.

5.     When meeting with the coach first state your concern succinctly and unemotionally.  Then immediately ask an open-ended question rather than simply demanding a certain action.  An open ended question invites a discussion and paves the way to understanding rather than challenging.  For example, “I am concerned that John isn’t getting enough work in the group he is in.  How do you feel about that?”

6.     As Steven Covey emphasized in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand.” Make it your goal to fully understand the coach’s reasoning for doing something the way he or she is doing it before you make a demand.  The coach has a lot of experience and a good long term view of the child’s needs.  It is fair, appropriate, and recommended that you ask the coach for his plans for your child.  It is also fair, appropriate, and recommended that you ask the coach for his critical evaluation of your child’s progress.

7.     If you are not happy with the coach’s initial responses, ask “what if” or “would you consider” questions, for example, “Would you consider having John come to one workout a week with the higher group to see how he handles the work?”

8.     If you are not happy with the responses from the coach then more difficult choices come into play.  If it is a technical issue having to do with technique or training or the career development of the athlete then most likely the coach has contractually been given the authority by the Board of Directors to make those decisions.  If the program is not meeting your perceived needs for your child then there is a mismatch between your expectations and what is being offered and it is time to look for another program.  Sorry, but sometimes it’s best to go somewhere else that matches up with your expectations.

9.     If it is not a technical issue, but something having to do with the coach’s style or relationship with your athlete, or some other behavior you are displeased with, and if you are not able to resolve the issue with the coach directly, then the appropriate action is to approach the president of the Board.  Follow the chain of command.  Let the BOD manage it.  If the BOD does not recognize it as an issue, see number 7 above.


Hopefully, a direct meeting with the coach with the attitude of “forming a partnership for the benefit of the child” will lead to a resolution and a long term relationship.

Enough Already With Kid Gloves

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even "frightening" for a young person. The principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh advises teachers to use only "pleasant-feeling tones."


Major pen manufacturers appear to agree. Robert Silberman, vice president of marketing at Pilot Pen, says teachers "are trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than harsh." Michael Finn, a spokesperson for Paper Mate, approves: "This is a kinder, more gentle education system." Which color is best for children? Stephen Ahle, principal at Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, Calif., offers lavender "because it is a calming color."


A calmer, gentler grading color? Are schoolchildren really so upset by corrections in primary red? Why have teachers become so careful?


It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile hothouse flowers who require protection from even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure. The new solicitude goes far beyond blacklisting red pens. Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings. In May 2002, for example, the principal of Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a newsletter to parents informing them that children could no longer play tag during the lunch recess. As she explained, "In this game, there is a 'victim' or 'It,' which creates a self-esteem issue."

Is anything OK?


Which games are deemed safe and self-affirming? The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive "tug of war" called "tug of peace." Some professionals in physical education advocate activities in which children compete only with themselves, such as juggling, unicycling, pogo sticking, and even "learning to ... manipulate wheelchairs with ease."


But juggling, too, poses risks.


A former member of The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports suggests using silken scarves rather than, say, uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. "Scarves," he points out, "are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly."


Is the kind of overprotectiveness these educators counsel really such a bad thing? Sooner or later, children will face stressful situations, disappointments and threats to their self-esteem. Why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible? The answer is that children need challenge, excitement and competition to flourish. To treat them as combustible bundles of frayed nerves does them no favors.


Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota, has done careful studies on playground dynamics. I asked him what he thought of the national movement against games such as tag and dodge ball: "It is ridiculous. Even squirrels play chase."


Children who are protected from frank criticism written in "harsh" colors are gravely shortchanged. In the global economy that awaits them, young Americans will be competing with other young people from all parts of the world whose teachers do not hesitate to use red pens. What is driving the new solicitude?


Too many educators, parents and camp counselors today are obsessed with boosting the self-esteem of the children in their care. These adults not only refrain from criticizing their young charges when they perform badly, they also take pains to praise them even when they've done nothing to deserve it.


But two decades of research have failed to show a significant connection between high self-esteem and achievement, kindness, or good personal relationships. Unmerited self-esteem, on the other hand, is known to be associated with antisocial behavior — even criminality. Nevertheless, most of our national institutions and organizations that deal with children remain fixated on self-esteem.


The Girl Scouts of America recently launched a major campaign "to address the problem of low self-esteem among 8- to 14-year-old girls." (Never mind that there is no good evidence these girls suffer a self-esteem deficit.) With the help of a $2.65 million grant from Unilever (a major corporation that owns products such as Lipton and Slim Fast), its new program, "Uniquely ME!," asks girls to contemplate their own "amazing" specialness. Girls are invited to make collages celebrating themselves. They can play a getting-to-know-me game called a "Me-O-Meter."

Uniquely ridiculous

One normally thinks of the Girl Scouts as an organization that fosters self-reliance and good citizenship. Me-O-Meters? How does that promote self-reliance? And is self-absorption necessarily good for young people?


Yes, say the mental health experts at Girl Scout Research Center. The Uniquely ME! pamphlet tells its young readers, "This booklet is designed to help boost your self-esteem by celebrating YOU and your uniqueness. ... Having high self-esteem ... can help you lead a more successful life."


The authors of Uniquely ME! and the executives at Unilever who funded it should take a careful look at an article in the January issue of Scientific American that debunks the self-esteem movement. ("Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.") The authors, four prominent academic psychologists, conclude, "We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise."


The good intentions or dedication of the self-esteem educators and Scout leaders are not in question. But their common sense is. With few exceptions, the nation's children are mentally and emotionally sound. They relish the challenge of high expectations. They can cope with red pens, tug of war and dodge ball. They can handle being "It."